Selfish Little Plants
For most of my life, I’ve regarded plants as nature’s picture of peace and gratitude, quietly growing with no worries or fears. I’d never considered the possibility that plants could be selfish, life-sucking back-stabbers. My opinion on nice little plants changed when I read an article on a scientific concept known as Plant Root Competition. This phenomenon occurs among plants that are growing closely together in an area with limited resources. The plants may put on a nice face above the surface, but underground, the roots are in full-blown competition with one another. Wherever there is a soil or nutrient shortage, it’s go time—It’s every plant for itself.
Plants that grow in crowded spaces go to desperate lengths to survive, seeking to get as many nutrients as they can from the earth. The plants become threatened by their neighbors, taking more nutrients than they need as often as they can. The roots begin to over-allocate nutrients for its normal processes. As a result, the plant can’t function properly, leading to stunted growth, the inability to reproduce, and very quickly, the plant dies.
Before recovery, I felt the ongoing need to take care of myself. Convinced that no one would take care of me or meet my needs, I believed I had to do whatever I could to make sure I was going to be ok. I operated out of a mindset of scarcity, as if there were limited resources of love and affection in the world and I had to fight in order to be happy. In this soul-trapping lie, I believed if someone else received love or approval, it was a threat to my own sense of worth. If someone else was regarded as pretty, successful or smart, it lowered my own value. Instead of growing beside other people, I began to see others as threats, relying on my ability to compare and compete in order to get what I thought I needed.
The mindset of scarcity infects our culture with fear and anxiety, convincing us we must manipulate, steal, lie and use in order to gain love, acceptance and affirmation. When we hold this mindset, we move through the world as if we’re covered in double-sided tape, seeking to take whatever is not bolted down. The fear of not having enough or not being enough drives us to do whatever we can to avoid the painful feelings of emptiness and despair.
And it’s an exhausting way to live.
When we come into recovery, we’re introduced to the reality that we are powerless: our attempts to control our drinking, the past, and the actions and thoughts of other people have completely failed. We have the opportunity to acknowledge that we lack the resources we need in order to take care of ourselves. Without connection to our Higher Power, we don’t have what we need to bring about the kind of free, authentic life we were created to live. All our attempts to take care of ourselves have the same results of Plant Root Competition: our growth is stunted, we can’t offer life to others, and our souls begin to suffocate.
The concept of our powerlessness, while a difficult truth to swallow, is also an avenue of freedom. The admission of powerlessness means I no longer have to live in fear of being out of control and instead, I can surrender to the truth that I never had control. I don’t have to try harder, drowning in exhaustion from my futile attempts to perform to earn love or behave in order to achieve acceptance. Our attempts to arm-wrestle out of the world what we think we need will never bring about the peace we crave. Instead, we can turn our lives and wills over to the care of God as we understand God, trusting God to give us what we need to thrive.
In this place of surrender, we can live in peace instead of fear. We can practice acceptance instead of wallowing in despair. We can love instead of judge. This is the gift of serenity offered by the Divine Love who invites us to learn to rest. It is only as we let go of self-reliance that we are able to grow.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv